Saturday, August 2, 2014

Battlefield Marsh

As my brother’s condition improved, and he became more independent, I found a couple days to get Buddy out on the water. The first paddle was for only 5 miles, but a lot of time was spent poking through the spidery fingers of Battlefield Marsh.

The area called Tidewater Virginia, encompasses a large area from the Lower Chesapeake Bay down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Before the coming of “civilization” and the construction of roads and bridges, there were few pieces of solid earth that would lead to other pieces of high ground without traversing a marsh or waterway. This Tidewater area south of the Elizabeth River, however, yielded commerce for colonists in the 1600’s that included shingles, tobacco, lumber, grain, and naval stores, that were moved north to market. What became known as the Great Road is what enabled these products to reach buyers in Norfolk. The primary bridge on the Great Road would logically be called Great Bridge. Since the Great Road and Great Bridge were the only through-route that joined mainland Virginia to the ports at Norfolk, Great Bridge would become the site of a short, but critical, battle in the Revolutionary War. Great Bridge is still there, and the Great Road has become Battlefield Blvd. It is still a major route that carries non-stop, bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Entering Battlefield Marsh
Great Bridge crossed the headwaters of the South Branch of the Elizabeth River, which was channeled through to the headwaters of the North Landing River to become the start of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) Great Bridge becomes the starting point for thousands of boats every year that follow the ICW clear to Florida. The area around Great Bridge is called Battlefield Marsh, and that’s where Buddy and I would float away from the congestion and noise.
Great Blue Heron
I was unfortunately at low tide, but while I had to pick my way through some shallow bars and areas, as I came back out of the marsh, I had a couple inches more water. Opposite the boat ramp, at the park behind the Great Bridge Lock, was an industrial site. There I found YP-678 secured to a couple dolphins. (Note: Besides being a fish, a dolphin is a collection of pilings cabled together at the top to create a very strong place to secure vessels and barges.)

A YP is a yard patrol boat. These are smaller naval vessels used for training and survey work. At the U.S. Naval Academy, they are the platform for teaching young midshipmen shipboard duties, vessel operation, and seamanship. YP-678 is 108-ft. long with a 24-ft beam and 8-ft draft, of 176-tons, and powered by two Detroit diesel engines that produce a cruising speed of 12 kts. Her keel was laid in 1983, launched in Nov., 1984, put in operation at the Academy in May, 1985, and decommissioned in Nov., 1998. It seems a shame for such a nice craft to have only an official span of operation of thirteen years. Besides the designation of YP-678, she was known as the USS Judgment.  
USS Judgment (YP-678) in happier days, steaming down
the St. Lawrence River.
She has laid in the Elizabeth River since 2008, and is for sale on Craig list for $30,000 if you are looking for the ultimate yacht. She is double-planked Alaska cedar with an aluminum pilot house, and the current survey says her hull is free of leaks and sound. A couple years ago I found another YP in a slip in the Sassafras River that has indeed been nicely fitted out as a yacht. Really making me feel old is the fact that Judgment’s entire naval career took place after I retired.

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